Monday, December 16, 2013

Grandson Inspires Esther Hershenhorn's 'Txtng Mama'

Esther Hershenhorn is known widely among Illinois children's authors as the heart and soul of SCBWI in this part of the country. Not only did she serve on the board of advisors for 10 years, she was the Illinois director 17 years, which means she's crossed paths with plenty of Midwestern authors, as well as more far-flung writers. 

As a teacher at the University of Chicago's Writer's Studio and Chicago's Newberry Library, and a writer herself – of the middle-grade novel The Confe$$ion$ and $ecret$ of Howard J. Fingerhut (Holiday House, 2002), poetry The Poetry Friday Anthology (Pomelo Books, 2012), and non-fiction S Is for Story: A Writer's Alphabet (Sleeping Bear Press, 2009) to name just a few – Esther brings her vast knowledge of children's literature to her role as a writing coach. She is a tireless champion of aspiring children's writers, both in her hometown of Chicago and beyond.

She returns to writing for the youngest readers with her latest book, Txtng Mama Txtng Baby (Sleeping Bear Press, 2013), a sort of ode to her out-of-state grandbaby.

Question: You're the author of poetry, picture books, a middle-grade novel. What made you want to write for the very youngest audience with Txtng Mama Txtng Baby?

Esther Hershenhorn: Most folks don’t know that Txtng Mama Txtng Baby marks my return to writing for the very youngest audience. I first began working to realize my Children’s Book Author Dream when Jimmy Carter was President, creating a personalized alphabet book to mark my son’s first birthday. Knowing that my son’s son inspired my newest book still has me smiling.

My raised Baby Antennae had traveled far and wide while my grandson was in utero, bringing me images of mamas thumbing their hand-held devices and babies finger-swiping the same.

Texting mamas, I repeated to myself. Texting babies. . . What’s up with that?

 It took out-of-the-box thinking, time, and some doing to figure out the story and consider the telling’s possibilities. I eventually settled on tunefully arranged familiar text expressions (think: I C U, xoxox, LOL) that created a through-the-day conversation between a mama and her baby. I’d always envisioned the board book as a cell phone look-alike, so I was especially pleased when Sleeping Bear Press created just that vertical (finger-swiping) format and chose colorful, baby-loving, easily identifiable emoticons as the illustrations.

My first book, The A to Z of Me, came close to being published by both Western Publishing and a toy manufacturer.  However, the technology did not exist to produce the book in a cost-effect manner. Ironically, today’s technology – i.e. laptops, cellular phones, iPads, reading devices – is the story that Txtng Mama Txtng Baby tells, and thinking about that fact widens my smile. Of course, the message remains the same in both baby board books: Mama loves Baby.

Q: You've cleverly merged our busy, electronic world with what you call "the ultimate hand-held device." What was your goal with Txtng Mama Txtng Baby? What did you set out to accomplish?

EH: I knew from the get-go I wanted to bring today’s Techy-Teachy World to the pages of a board book. Babies live and breathe this wired world. 

Giving babies a way to see themselves and this world in a book seemed smart to me. Which is not to say I didn’t consider apps and/or ebooks and story-telling with all sorts of bells and whistles as the perfect vehicle. However, my love for The Book trumped all other story-telling possibilities. I wanted babies to be able to hold this phone look-alike, to open it, close it, turn it, even eat it. I wanted these newest of readers to be exposed to letters, and to be eyeing those letters from left to write. I wanted them looking at cheery images that told a familiar story. I wanted these newest of listeners hearing the pleasing rhythm of the chosen text expressions. I wanted them to have fun!

And I wanted them sharing this experience with Someone Who Mattered – a parent, a grandparent, a sitter, a sibling.

I knew there would be folks who wouldn’t get the idea; I knew there would be those who wondered if I’d “lost it.” I could hear their responses: “I thought you loved literacy, Esther?! But I knew in my heart there would be many more Mamas and Babies, and their older siblings too, who would grab the book and hold it tight for countless fun re-readings.

Technology is a given.

Text is a language, now taught in some schools, believe it or not, so students can text their parents at the end of the day. Research has proven that when babies and toddlers interact with technology, engaging, interacting humans must be present too.

Q: Some readers and writers still shy away from digital books, even though this format is here to stay. But I believe storytelling is storytelling, no matter whether the delivery form is a paper book or a tablet. Where are you on ebooks, paper books, and early literacy?

EH: Well, back in the day, when I was teaching young children and parenting, I was happy as long as the child – mine or another’s – was reading, period. Comic books? Cereal boxes? Baseball cards? Game boards?

It didn’t matter. I simply wanted the child to be reading.

I still want that. So many folks now distinguish the vessels that deliver the content (ebook, iPad, book) from the delivered stories. Visiting classrooms, I see so many Kindles and Nooks stacked at the back of the room with students’ books for Free Reading Time. Text books are digital. Kids blog daily.

A Luddite at heart, I first balked at and bashed many of those technological “vessels.” I’ve come to see that, again, I want the child reading, no matter the vessel – good stories, told well, so well they resound in the reader’s heart.

Q: You've been an author and a teacher for years, but you're also a professional writing coach. Where does your heart lie? Are you happy wearing all three hats? Do you feel that each role has informed the other?

EH: In a true Quest story, the Hero returns with something so much better than that which he first sought. Such was my Writer’s Journey: I not only uncovered and recovered my voice, so I could go on to author my children’s books; I became a Writing Teacher and Writing Coach, working with adults who want to tell their stories to children.

Lucky me! as it says on my website.

I am indeed happy wearing all three hats. I began my career teaching fifth grade. Once a teacher, always a teacher. And in 87 Lifetimes, I could never meet the singular people with whom I’ve had the privilege of working; I could never know such amazing stories.

As I wrote in a recent TeachingAuthors post – because that’s what I am, a TeachingAuthor, I learn more than my students do. I invest in the writer, I invest in his story, researching content, exploring comparable tellings, coming to know his Writer’s story, drawing from the reader the story that needs telling.

In many ways, each class I create, each narrative I offer a writer, is a mini-story all its own.
I learn what the writer wants and needs, I spend time learning the why, and then I figure out the how. I do the same for my characters.

Sometimes, of course, like now (!), when I’ve needed to put my own writing aside to help another, my character begins expressing her anger, jabbing at my bones from the inside-out. The Good News is: when I do return to my novel, I’ll be so much smarter, thanks to the writers I coach and the students I teach.

All three roles allow me to live and work within the Children’s Book World. Again, Lucky me!

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with your writing? What do you hope readers take away from your books?

EH: I’ve heard it said that a writer writes the same story, just in different ways, each time he writes. There’s an underpinning – or what I think of as a heart, a belief a writer holds that he wants the world to know. That insight certainly applies to me and the books I’ve written and published.

No matter the format in which I’ve chosen to tell my story, I want my reader knowing: he or she is important. Not in the sense of famous or glorified. Simply in the sense of bearing weight, of deserving to be heard.

The Latin root of the word is importare – “to be of consequence, weigh.”

I want my reader thinking, when he closes one of my books: I matter too, just like Lowell Piggott or Rudie Dinkins or Pippin Biddle or Howie Fingerhut, or even the esteemed children’s book writers I referenced in S Is for Story.

Mama hearting Baby is but one more way of sharing that sentiment.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Beth Finke's 'Safe and Sound' Makes an Inspiring Holiday Gift

Christmastime for me growing up meant one thing: my annual plea for a dog. I was obsessed with them, begged Santa to slip one under the tree, read all sorts of books about them, memorized every breed. For kids and families with an interest in dogs, Chicago author Beth Finke's beautiful story of her relationship with her Seeing Eye dog, Hanni, makes a fascinating, uplifting holiday gift.

Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound (Blue Marlin, 2007), illustrations by Anthony Alex LeTourneau, received the ASPCA Henry Berg Award for children's literature, and it was featured on the Martha Speaks ReadAloud Book Club on PBS. Booklist says, "The pairing of Finke’s clear and animated writing with LeTourneau’s precise and expressive illustrations perfectly reflects the lively relationship between proud and responsible Hanni and proud and intrepid Beth. . ."

Hanni and Beth tells the story of how Beth, who is blind, travels safely around the city – to work, shopping, even to baseball games – with the help of Hanni, a specially-trained Golden/Labrador Retriever. It also includes factual information about how Hanni was raised and trained, how Beth and Hanni learned to work together as a team, and what it's like to be blind.

Beth's memoir for grown-up readers, Long Time, No See, was published by University of Illinois Press in 2003 and is required reading in disability studies programs at universities across the country. And her essays air on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.

And readers can keep up with Beth's latest adventures around Chicago and beyond with her current Seeing Eye dog, Whitney, over at her Safe & Sound blog.

Question: You are a print journalist, you have contributed essays to Chicago Public Radio and National Public Radio's Morning Edition, and you teach memoir classes for the City of Chicago's Department on Aging. What made you decide to write a children's book?

Beth Finke: My first book was a memoir. I lost my sight when I was 26 years old,  and Long Time, No See was about my marriage, raising our son, and the adaptations my husband Mike Knezovich and I have made to survive – and thrive – after losing my sight. After Long Time, No See was published I started doing book signings and presentations at book fairs, conferences, schools, libraries, and bookstores all over the country. One chapter of Long Time, No See focuses on training with my first Seeing Eye dog, a Black Lab named Dora. Over and over again, the questions most people asked during the Q & A sessions after my presentations dealt with that particular subject: my Seeing Eye dog.

People – especially children – are fascinated with Seeing Eye dogs. They may have seen Animal Planet shows about guide dogs, but the people I met didn't know much about how the dogs were trained, or what the rules are when they see a guide dog at work leading a person who is blind. I thought a children’s book might be a fun way for children and the adults in their lives to learn more.

Q: You are clearly a communicator and comfortable in any medium. And your school visits with Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound are enthusiastically received. Is there one medium you prefer best?

BF: I am old school. I prefer face-to-face communication.

Q: Your book can be appreciated by a wide audience – adult and child, teacher and student, blind and sighted, dog lovers and cat people. What kind of feedback do you get from audiences when you talk about Safe & Sound?

BF: Audiences seem to be taken by my honesty. Children like the way I treat them as adults during school presentations. Sometimes I wonder if that's because I can't see them – I picture them as peers, and talk to them that way.

Q: What about from the Seeing Eye school and other guide dog organizations – do they know about the book and your work?

BF: They sure do – my publisher, Blue Marlin Publications, put together a special edition with information about the Seeing Eye on the cover, and the Seeing Eye sold the book on its website and gave the book away to puppy raisers, the wonderful volunteers who raise our dogs to become Seeing Eye dogs and help people like me, who are blind, to keep safe. I work part-time for Easter Seals, too, and Blue Marlin Publications published special copies of the book for Easter Seals to give away to contributors as well.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from your book?

BF: I hope Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound helps children understand that while having a disability presents challenges, that doesn't necessarily stop people like me from having a rich and active life. I hope that kids who read Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound might develop traits of empathy, not sympathy, as they relate to people with disabilities. And, for that matter, as they relate to all people.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish as a writer?

BF: You want an honest answer? I'd like to make enough money as a writer to support my husband, a man I love, rather than vice-versa!

Q: What are you working on now?

BF: I lead three memoir-writing classes a week for senior citizens in Chicago and am working on a book about what I am learning from those classes.

Q: Will there be another children's book from you hitting shelves anytime soon?

BF: I had no plans to write another children's book until last month. The mother of a 5-year-old who is blind contacted me to thank me for a Braille copy of Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound and lamented that there are  not many books for children about Braille. It has me thinking. . .

Monday, December 2, 2013

Dahl, Nesbit Inspire 'Art of Flying' Author Judy Hoffman

Chicago-area author Judy Hoffman's new contemporary fantasy, The Art of Flying (Disney-Hyperion, October 2013), may be her debut, but her writing style makes it clear she's no novice.

A fun and engaging middle-grade novel, The Art of Flying features 11-year-old Fortuna Dalliance, who is typically a down-to-earth kind of kid. When her eclectic neighbors turn out to be witches, and they desperately need Fortuna's help, she's ready for adventure. The Baldwin sisters have gotten themselves into a pickle by turning three birds – an owl and two sparrows – into a bullying man and two boys. And they want Fortuna to talk some sense into one of them, Martin, to let the witches turn him back into a bird.

Fortuna isn't so sure she believes in magic. But once she gets to know Martin, she's certain she doesn't want to lose his friendship. The pressure is on, since the witchy Baldwin sisters face stiff penalties for their magic if they don't get those humans turned back into their feathery old selves within five days.

"Silly witches, transformed birds and a plucky heroine equal 'real, live adventure,' writes Kirkus Reviews. The Art of Flying makes a great holiday gift for middle-grade readers who like uplifting, spirited fantasy.

Question: Witches, birds transformed into children, talking animals. What made you want to write The Art of Flying? And why a fantasy?

Judy Hoffman: I've always been a big fan of fantasy, especially stories about magic coming into regular kids' lives. I think there are many things happening around us that we just don't pay attention to. The Art of Flying came from a story I carried inside me for a long time about children and birds and flying and merging those worlds together. I had ideas for the overall plot and the main characters, but much of it evolved as I went along.

Q: This is your debut novel, but your don't write like a rookie. Where did you develop your craft and how long have you been at it?

JH: I've written quietly for a number of years and taken writing courses along the way. My educations is really from the reading I've done all my life. I have always leaned toward books that are considered classics. I think I draw from some of the older styles of writing. I write and write and revise incessantly until the words feel and look right on paper and sound right when read aloud.

Q: A Kirkus review likened your haphazard witches, the Baldwin sisters, to those in Roald Dahl's The Witches. What authors and books influence your writing? What or who inspires you?

JH: The Wizard of Oz books started me on the magical journey when I was very young. E. Nesbit is a huge influence. The Secret Garden, The Wind in the Willows, E.B. White (Charlotte's Web). Roald Dahl (but I never read The Witches). The list goes on and on.

J.K. Rowling is my hero. She brought magic and reading back into the world. Her background without a formal education in writing gave me the courage to submit my own book for publication.

Q: What do you hope children take away from your books? 

JH: So far, I've never had a big seated theme or message I want to impart when I write. I mostly want to entertain and captivate the reader so that they want to keep reading. At the end of the book, I'd like them to reluctantly close it and say, "That was fun. I want to read this again." That, to me, is the ultimate.

Q: What will we see from you next?

JH: I'm finishing up a book about a meerkat endowed with special powers who is discovered by three children and their grandma in their backyard in Texas. I also am working on a story about a girl named Clarissa who is the niece of Selena and Ellie - the witches from The Art of Flying.

I hope to finish both these books up soon and see what happens!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Kristen Kittscher's Thrilling Mystery 'Wig in the Window'

 Kristen Kittscher's The Wig in the Window (HarperCollins, 2013) is one of those books that hooks you in from the first page. And it shows the power of a fantastic title: I recall stumbling across this book for the first time in spring, and the title stayed with me. Later when I read a review, I thought the premise sounded fantastic. And finally, when I popped into the bookstore over the summer, the title was easy for my addled mind to recall as I wandered the stacks.

The Wig in the Window tells the story of seventh-grade BFFs Sophie Young and Grace Yang, budding spies who have made a game of snooping on their neighbors. When they witness what they think is a murder, things begin to spin out of control. The suspect: their middle-school counselor, who was wielding a red-stained cleaver. There are enough red herrings to throw off even the most discerning young readers and keep the pages turning. Kirkus describes Wig as "Reminiscent of the ever-compelling film Rear Window, this appealing and often spine-tingling tale will leave its audience wishing for more."

Question: This book is fast-paced and full of thrills from the word go. Where did you get the idea for The Wig in the Window? And did you know the title from the moment you sat down to write the story? 

Kristen Kittscher: When I was in sixth grade, my best friend and I had lots of far-fetched theories about our neighbors and pretended we were spies. We even had a “spy headquarters” in a loft above her garage where we made fake “Most Wanted” posters and spy badges. The Wig in the Window was inspired by those memories of childhood spy games. I wondered: what if there had been a fugitive in our neighborhood? Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window is one of my favorite movies – I thought a Rear Window for kids had some fun possibilities.

As for the title, the book actually sold to HarperCollins as “Untitled Middle Grade Mystery.” As I was drafting, I always referred to it as “Young and Yang” because Sophie Young and Grace Yang’s friendship is at its heart. The process of coming up with a new title was pretty funny. I talk about it and share some of the editorial correspondence here.

Q: I loved how these characters were not just "strong girls," one of them was quoting Sun Tzu, philosopher and author of The Art of War, throughout the book. Are you schooled in the art of war yourself? What made you incorporate strategies for defeating enemies into your mystery novel? What made you write such strong, capable girls?

KK: I wasn’t schooled in The Art of War before writing Wig, but I can certainly hold my own now. I joke that the book is a psychological thriller for tweens, so Sun Tzu’s battle advice was perfect for Young & Yang’s cat-and-mouse game with their school counselor.

 I also incorporated Sophie’s interests because I wanted to explore a common theme I’d seen while teaching middle school: kids often take on other cultures and identities while trying to figure out their own place in the world. They look for things outside themselves to give them a little boldness. It can be very problematic and lead to tensions in friendship, as Sophie Young discovers. What is the line between appreciation of a culture and appropriation? I’d wondered it myself as I watched my students get really into manga, for example.

I'm glad my characters' strengths comes across! I taught at an all-girls’ school for many years; I don’t know any girls who aren’t strong and capable, so they just came out that way as I wrote! I’m so pleased that kids are finding them empowering. Confident Trista Bottoms is definitely a favorite of mine – and I find myself channeling her when I’m feeling unsure about myself, too.

Q: Mysteries have lots of loose ends that need tying up, and they have to maintain a certain tension throughout. How hard is it to write a mystery? And why did you choose this genre?

KK: The Wig in the Window is the first thing I’ve written, so I have difficulty comparing the difficulty of writing a mystery over any other kind of writing. It’s all hard! I do know that it seems to take me longer than others to write. Whether that’s because of the intricacies of plot construction, the number of revisions it takes to get the humor timing right, or because it’s tricky to keep things moving while still exploring the friendship, I’m not sure.

I love page-turners and being surprised, so the idea of creating that experience for kids delights me to no end! I also think it complements thematic obsessions of mine. Doubt (and self-doubt) are the twin engines that propel a mystery plot, so mysteries are perfect for traveling with a character on a journey from insecurity to greater confidence. (Which, in turn, is perfect for tweens trying to shed their own self-consciousness and figure out where they fit in.)

Q: Will we see Agents Young & Yang again for another adventure? What is your next project?

KK: You will! I am working on the sequel, The Tiara on the Terrace. Young & Yang (and their new friend Trista Bottoms) go undercover in their town parade’s beauty pageant to stop a murderer. I think of it as a sort of Miss Congeniality set in middle school.

Q: What do you hope young readers take away from your stories? What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?

I hope to make kids laugh out loud and entertain them while inspiring them to be confident and take themselves seriously. I hope, too, my stories help them through a few tough moments in their friendships!

Monday, October 28, 2013

October Carnival of Children's Literature Roundup

Lots of blogs are celebrating Halloween with spooky book posts. And today, as host of the October Carnival of Children's Literature roundup, I'll share some of the month's highlights. In keeping with the spirit of the month, these bloggers offer some fun tricks and plenty of treats.

This is my first time hosting Kidlitosphere's Carnival of Children's Literature, and I loved being able to check out what other bloggers are posting about in the broader conversation around kids books, early literacy, and creativity. I hope you enjoy this peek into recent topics of discussion.

Jodie over at the early literacy blog Growing Book by Book shares Halloween titles that will have you singing, chanting and dancing, including W. Nikola-Lisa's lively Shake Dem Halloween Bones.

Jeanette at SpeakWell, ReadWell features a book to set the Halloween mood: Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown. She says the book "charmed my students into creating their own eerie eatables. A few Common Core Standards crept into the mix for some lively learning."

Kerry at Picture Books & Pirouettes posted about the new rhyming picture book Halloween Hustle by debut author Charlotte Gunnufson and illustrator Kevan J. Atteberry. A great Halloween pick!

Iron Guy Carl over at Boys Rule Boys Read! may not have been trying to celebrate Halloween but we think he's in the right spirit with his review of the three Fangbone graphic novels, which he says, "Boys would really enjoy, especially the 'reluctant readers.' "

KidLitCon is for YOU

Jen at The Cybils Blog reminds bloggers to consider attending this year's KidLitCon on Nov. 8 and 9 in Austin. "The Cybils organizers are big fans of KidLitCon, an annual conference of children's book bloggers, and we posted about this year's event to help spread the word to more bloggers." Check it out for registration information and more.

Charlotte at Charlotte's Library will be attending. And she says, "I'll be leading a discussion at KidLitCon of issues and questions and concerns shared by Middle Grade Bloggers, and I've put together a list of what some of these topics might be, hoping to get input from other Middle Grade bloggers before the con."

Early Literacy

Darshana at Flowering Minds posts about Miss Maple’s Seeds, written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. She calls it "a magical, timeless book that will enchant kids and tug on the heartstrings of the adult."

Marty of The Great Chapter Book, Middle Grade Confusion writes about the differences between chapter books and middle-grade, which "are becoming blurred or even invisible, much to the detriment of kids and the chapter book category."

Sarah at ModernBrickaBrack shares about the writing of Alfie the Squirrel and the Tale of the Missing Grass and what she learned about online book publishing.

And Jen over at Jen Robinson's Book Page posts about actions she plans to take "to increase my daughter's love of reading, in response to my own read of the latest edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook." 


Alison over at interviewed Jane Kohuth about her new early reader picture book, Anne Frank's Chestnut Tree. "She shares some of the challenges of writing about war and oppression for young children and how Anne Frank's legacy can inspire activism."

Lindsey of A is for Aging blogs on positive images of aging in kidlit, and she says of Don Tate's It Jes' Happened, "This picture book highlights creativity in late life by showcasing the life of self-taught artist Bill Traylor."

Alex  at Randomly Reading tackles the slippery subject of seals with See What a Seal Can Do by Chris Butterworth, illustrated by Kate Nelms. "See what they do when they dive underwater to look for something to eat. They have a surprisingly busy life under the sea."

Interviews & Illustration & Such

Zoe who blogs at Playingbythebook asks, "Who doesn't love Richard Scarry? But what can he tell us about how society and language has changed over 50 years?"

LH Johnson of the blog Did you ever stop to think and forget to start again? says, "I had a bit of a thought and wondered whether it was possible to read your way around the UK in children's and YA books. Turns out you kind of can! (And I'm working on the missing counties!)"

Amitha over at Monkey Poop features a Q&A with Kathryn Lasky, about her latest book, The Extra.

Carmela of TeachingAuthors shares that her post "includes a "Fib" poem in memory of my writing friend and former student, Laura Crawford." 


Margo over at The Fourth Musketeer shares about Hetty Feather, "one of those feisty, charismatic girl characters you won't soon forget. Read about British author Jacqueline Wilson's delightful historical fiction series set in Victorian England."

Katie of Secrets & Sharing Soda posts about Bo at Ballard Creek, "a light-hearted and adventurous historical fiction book that can appeal to a wide range of ages. Filled with memorable characters and exciting events from Bo's day to day life, it will appeal to fans of Little House on the Prairie and stories by Carolyn Haywood and Beverly Cleary." 

Brenda at Proseandkahn sings the praises of The Candy Smash by Jacqueline Davies. She says, "Not since Love That Cat has an author depicted a child's discovery of poetry so perfectly."

Erica over at What Do We Do All Day? shares some of their favorite diverse books to share with babies and toddlers.

Catherine  of Story Snug writes, "We love the cheesy names of the cute mice in Mouseton Abbey. This story would appeal to fans of Downton Abbey."

Reshama of Stacking Books post that Mordecai Gerstein "draws you into the story of the Very First Drawing. Who made the first drawing he asks? Was it an adult or a kid? When did he make it? How did he make it? What triggered him to make the very first drawing?

Anastasia at Booktalking says, "I'm so happy that my cheerleader series is on the shelves now!" 

Susan of The Book Chook declares, "Nick Bland knows how to create memorable children's picture books – the kinds of books kids beg for over and over, the kinds of books that grow little bookworms." 

Gail over at Original Content shares a brief roundup "of women graphic artists who were discussed as part of a panel on women in children's publishing." 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Helen Docherty's 'Snatchabook' a Whodunit for the Wee Ones

Helen Docherty's name might not be a familiar one to American households, but it will be. A native of Britain, her debut picture book hit shelves on October 1 here in the United States and is being published simultaneously in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden, Italy – a total of 16 countries in all. With gorgeous illustrations by Helen's husband, Thomas Docherty (Ruby Nettleship, The Snorgh and the Sailor), a charming premise, and lively rhyme, it deserves the wide audience.

Titled The Snatchabook, it is the adorable story of bedtime in Burrow Down, where all the children's books are disappearing. When one little girl decides to stay awake and catch the book thief, she discovers it's a cute little critter called the Snatchabook. His complaint is a simple one; he just wants someone to tuck him in at night with a story.

“I know it’s wrong, but can’t you see—
I’ve got no one to read to me!”

With a nod to both Dr. Seuss and Julia Donaldson's The Gruffalo, The Snatchabook is what Publisher's Weekly calls "a winner in this heartwarming tribute to the essential role of bedtime reading in the lives of families."

Question: When I first picked up The Snatchabook, I thought "instant classic." This idea is adorable and makes writers like me smack their foreheads and say, "Genius! Why didn't I think of it?" Where did you get the idea for The Snatchabook? What was your creative process like?

Helen Docherty: I came up with the idea at the end of a really long, hard day of trying to think up new ideas for stories, but not really getting anywhere. The words "book thief" suddenly popped into my head and with them the idea of a mysterious thief who steals books in the night. I started to jot down potential names for this creature: a book cruncher? A book snatcher? Then I realised that if I inverted these to create a Snatchabook, I could potentially rhyme this with other words; and also, a Snatchabook sounded less menacing, somehow.

I knew that I wanted to set up a kind of whodunit with a brave heroine (Eliza) and a surprise twist. After that, the story started to form itself pretty quickly on the page – within a few hours, I had written half of the very first draft, and I knew how I wanted the story to end. Of course, it took several more days to complete a finished draft that I was happy with, and then many more re-edits and tweaks followed.

Q: Writing in rhyme is no easy feat, and new authors are often discouraged to attempt it. But when reading Snatchabook aloud with a young audience, the rhyming is part of the story's incredible charm. How challenging was it to get the rhyme right? Did you look to Seuss and The Gruffalo for inspiration?

HD: The Snatchabook was actually the first rhyming picture book text I had ever written (although as a child, I loved to write in verse). Having two young children, however, I was – and still am – immersed in the world of rhyming story books. Julia Donaldson and Dr Seuss are both huge favourites of ours, and masters of the genre. The 1970s classic The Giant Jam Sandwich (by John Vernon Lord, verses by Janet Burroway) was another source of inspiration. Strangely enough, after attempting to write several stories in prose, I found writing in verse quite liberating in some ways. Having said that, sometimes it can be a very frustrating experience when you know what you want to say but can’t find the rhyme to fit! I tend to write long lists of rhyming words and try out all kinds of combinations until I can make it work.

Q: The illustrations are adorable. And while most authors get little to no say in how the artist interprets her story, you happen to live with your book's artist. How was that process? Collaborative? Or do you work independently?

HD: It was fantastic! Fortunately for me, Tom liked the story a lot and got really excited about the illustrations. It was a very collaborative process right from the start; we spent a lot of time discussing how the characters should look (especially the Snatchabook), and how to create the right atmosphere for Burrow Down. Having said that, once Tom got going on the illustrations, I didn’t spend my whole time peering over his shoulder. He added several visual elements of his own invention (for example, the Snatchabook perched unhappily on a branch, all alone, on the second spread) that greatly enhance the story. It was so much fun for me to watch it all come to life, and to be part of that process. I feel very lucky indeed!

Q: The Snatchabook is having a simultaneous launch in the United Kingdom and the United States. Are you finding the buzz around it to be similar in both places? Or is one different from the other?

HD: I think children’s books get taken a lot more seriously in the U.S., as a whole. Although we have incredibly supportive publishers in both countries, the buzz in the United States has been much greater so far, with reviews appearing on many blogs, booksellers’ and librarians’ websites and in the press. A lot of this is thanks to the amazingly hard-working and pro-active team at Sourcebooks, but I think it is also because children’s picture books have a higher status in the U.S. than here in the U.K.

I’m not quite sure why that is, considering the wealth of home-grown talent (Julia Donaldson, to name but one)! Anyway, it’s lovely to know that The Snatchabook is already being enjoyed by so many people in the U.S., and hopefully in many other countries too (it is being published in 16 countries altogether so far). I should add that the buzz here in the Mumbles (our neighbourhood in Swansea) has been fantastic – we are lucky enough to have the support of a fabulous independent book shop, Cover to Cover, whose owner has organised two local launches for us and promoted the book very successfully in her shop.

Q: What will we see next from you? Are you working on projects on your own or with your husband?

HD: We have a new book together coming out this time next year, hopefully, called Abracazebra. It’s another rhyming picture book, written by me and illustrated by Tom – he’s working on the final illustrations right now, in fact. It’s the story of a zebra who arrives in town with her traveling magic show, and a jealous goat who feels that she’s stolen his pitch. I also have another picture book text under contract with Faber, but I’m not sure who the illustrator will be yet (not Tom this time!). It’s called Do You Remember? and it’s a very simple story about a young girl’s earliest achievements.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Spooky Fun With Ammi-Joan Paquette's 'Ghost in the House'

Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year for picture books. And among the most adorable titles I came across this year is Ghost in the House by Ammi-Joan Paquette (Candlewick Press, July 2013) and illustrated by Adam Record. It's a cozy little rhyming book that features a sweet ghost in a spooky old house. What's lurking around each corner? It could be something frightening, but instead our little ghost finds another friend at every turn. That is until the end, when the gang of ghouls discovers the scariest thing around: a little boy!

Paquette is having a good year, with the publication of two novels, Paradox (Random House Books for Young Readers, June 2013) and Rules for Ghosting (Walker/Bloomsbury, July 2013), and two picture books, Petey and Pru and the Hullabaloo (Clarion Books, October 2013) and Ghost in the House.

Ghost makes the list for School Library Journal's great books for Halloween: "Bouncing rhymes, bold artwork, and endearingly depicted ghouls make this counting book a read-aloud must." And Horn Book Magazine praised Paquette's tale, saying "The bouncy rhyme in this cumulative story is engaging, and the scariness level is just right for the very young."

Question: While little ones can enjoy Ghost in the House any time of year, it makes an especially good read at Halloween. Where did you get the idea for the story? Did you like to read spooky tales when you were a young reader?

Ammi-Joan Paquette: Oh, I was a big fan of spooky stories when I was young! And goofy, bouncy rhyme is something that I really enjoy playing with (and let’s be honest—reading, too). This particular book has an interesting history: An editor came very close to acquiring another manuscript of mine—a different spooky story. For various reasons, though, she wasn’t clicking with that piece all the way. So she asked, “Do you have any other spooky rhyming picture books you could send me?” I did not; but I quickly set about creating some! I launched a brainstorming session fleshing out five different ideas. Three of these I pursued into manuscript drafts. One of these became Ghost in the House.

Q: This has been a big year for you as a writer, with not just one, not just two, but THREE books out! And a fourth hitting shelves this month. That's a grand slam! What made the stars align so well for you in 2013?

AJP: I know, this year has been pretty hectic, to say the least! That’s the thing about publishing—it’s always going to keep you guessing. My four manuscripts sold to four different publishers, over a period of time from July 2010 to January 2012. Yet somehow they were all released within a three-month stretch. (And the first three came out within two weeks of each other!) There’s just no predicting how things will turn out. Which I guess makes the writing life even more exciting, yes?

Q: Writing for a very young audience is challenging for a host of reasons. How did you manage to strike the right balance between thrills and not-so-scary fun in Ghost in the House?

AJP: Gosh, that’s a good question! In this particular case, the story itself came to me pretty effortlessly. The actual polishing and rhythm flow and all of that took longer to figure out. But this story overall really feels like a gift (maybe the universe’s reward for the ill-fated spooky manuscript I mentioned above; which I toiled over for years only to then have it torpedoed by an adorable blue ghost! J).

Q: You write both picture books as well as middle-grade novels. Do you prefer one genre over the other, such as the read-aloud pleasure of picture books vs. connecting with independent readers? Can you do more in one form than the other?

AJP: I really love both of the genres equally; I feel like they exercise different sides of my creative brain, and I love adapting to the restrictions and the rewards of each one. With picture books, I adore playing with language, and the challenge of packing a full story arc, character growth, and meaningful subtext into 500 words or less. And then I also love digging deeper into character and story and building worlds that spring to life in the longer form of a novel. I guess I’m glad that I don’t have to choose just one form, because I don’t know if I could!

Q: What is your creative process like – do you have multiple projects going at one time? Will we see more books from you next year? 

AJP: Oh, yes! I am a big-time multi-tasker. In fact, I really think that the pause between projects is a big part of my own creative process. When I’m stuck on a problem—whether it’s a novel plot hole, or a stubborn rhyme—stepping away and doing something else has a way of freeing up my subconscious mind to nag away at the problem organically. More often than not, by the time I return to my original manuscript the solution has magically appeared at the tips of my fingers. Not everybody’s process, I know, but it works for me!  And as far as what’s to come? I don’t have anything new scheduled just at this moment… but good things are brewing. Stay tuned!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Matt Phelan Spotlights Buster Keaton With 'Bluffton'

For history buffs looking for interesting stories told in creative and compelling ways, Matt Phelan is the go-to author. Nominated more than once for an Eisner Award, the comic book equivalent of the Oscars, and recipient of the prestigious Scott O'Dell Award, Matt is an artist who can weave an engaging tale. Examples of his talent as an illustrator are many – The Higher Power of Lucky by Newbery-winner Susan Patron, Flora's Very Windy Day by Jeanne Birdsall, Xander's Panda Party by Linda Sue Park (Clarion, September 2013). But Matt's latest graphic novel, Bluffton: My Summers with Buster Keaton (Candlewick, July 2013), showcases for the third time his talent as a storyteller.

In what Kirkus calls in a starred review, "Thrilling—a spirited, poignant coming-of-age vignette," Bluffton tells the story of Henry Harrison, a somewhat bored boy who becomes fascinated with vaudeville life when Buster Keaton and his outrageous troupe tumble into the Lake Michigan beach town of Bluffton for the summer. While Henry wants to learn all the tricks he can from Buster, who's known as the "human mop," young Buster just wants to be a regular kid. Using watercolor and pencil, Matt conjures up the simple pleasures of summertime – baseball, swimming in the lake, fishing off the dock, pulling pranks on unsuspecting neighbors. We see the boys' two very different childhoods through these summers together, and the story wraps up with a sweet ending as a mature Henry looks back.

Matt's other two graphic novels are both from Candlewick as well, and both earned starred reviews from Kirkus, too. Around the World (2011) spotlights three adventurers who set out on solitary journeys to circle the globe. Thomas Stevens pedaled a bicycle from San Francisco around the world to Japan in 1884. A few years later in 1889, daredevil journalist Nellie Bly took off on steam ship and train to beat the 80 days mentioned in Jules Verne's popular novel (and met the author along the way). And starting in 1895, seafarer Joshua Slocum set sail. Matt highlights their amazing physical feats as well as their internal, personal journeys. Booklist praises Around the World for ". . . tight research and a gift for evoking both an era and the personalities that lived in it, the stories are greatly abetted by the magic of Phelan’s art."

With The Storm in the Barn (2009), Matt tells the story of an 11-year-old loner named Jack, whose family is suffering through the Dust Bowl. In a blending of historical fiction and superhero action, Jack battles the demon that's tormenting his family and the small Kansas town. When Storm won the 2010 Scott O'Dell Award for historical fiction, it caused a bit of a dustup. It was a graphic novel after all, not a traditional, text-heavy story. The Horn Book's Roger Sutton defended the committee's choice, saying, "The Storm in the Barn has all the ingredients of great fiction–astute characterization, evocative atmosphere, a compelling story, a theme rewarding consideration–and gives us a unique vision of the Dirty Thirties." Read Matt's interview with the Horn Book about Storm.

Question: You have been the illustrator for a variety of children's books, from picture books to middle-grade novels. What made you want to wear the author's hat, too? And why?

Matt Phelan: It was really just that I got the idea for The Storm in the Barn. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the story and writing it myself seemed like the only way to get it done. I had what Orson Welles' called the "confidence of ignorance." I didn't know what would be involved in writing a graphic novel, so I just plunged ahead.

Q: Like your second graphic novel, Around the World, Bluffton looks at the life of a remarkable trail-blazer. What made you choose to explore Buster Keaton's life? Was it hard to find ways to make his experiences relate to today's kids?

MP: I've been a lifelong fan of Buster Keaton. I think he was a true artist. When I read about his summers spent in Bluffton in his autobiography, I realized it would be a great way to get to the heart of Buster. I think the idea of a child star, which he certainly was, is something today's kids can relate to. If you met a kid who could flip in the air backwards and land on his feet, you would find that pretty cool.

Q: Many graphic novels have a comic-book feel, but your illustrations are done in a softer style that creates a sense of nostalgia. Can you talk about your creative process and how you use your art to set the tone and help tell the story?

MP: I came to graphic novels from picture books where I was using watercolors, pastels, whatever was needed for the particular book. I applied that approach to comics. Personally, I find that by using paint as opposed to digital, I can get closer to the mood I'm trying to achieve. I experimented with digital for The Storm in the Barn, but quickly discovered that I could get a better dusty effect with watercolor.

Q: From first lightbulb of an idea to finished manuscript, how long does it take for you to produce a book? And are you generally working on other illustration projects at the same time?

MP: Well,  the lightbulb seems to be one of those long-lasting, environmentally friendly bulbs because my ideas tend to spend several years just slowly stewing. The idea for Storm first came to me in 2003, six years before it came out. The germ of the idea for Bluffton is nearly 20 years old. Once it really clicks and I figure out the story, the process of writing, sketching, and painting the book takes about two years. With the exception of Bluffton (for the most part), I'm usually also working on other books at the same time. I don't necessarily recommend this.

Q: Graphic novels are incredibly popular with young readers. My own boys devour them like candy. But your books tend to carry more heft and vitamins than the typical graphic novel. What do you hope to accomplish with your books?

MP: I see graphic novels as a wonderful medium for telling stories. You can tell any kind of story you want: silly stories, superhero stories, historical fiction, whatever. I'm interested in seeing if I can achieve the "heft" of a prose novel in a graphic novel. I like stories with a bit of emotional resonance.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Meghan McCarthy's 'Daredevil' Spotlights Woman Aviator

Pioneering aviator Betty June Skelton broke air, land, and sea records, and even trained to become the first woman in space. She broke so many barriers that she was nicknamed the "First Lady of Firsts." Award-winning author-illustrator Meghan McCarthy brings Betty's remarkable story to life in the brightly illustrated, information-packed  Daredevil: The Daring Life of Betty Skelton (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2013).

While some picture book biographies tend to play the illustrations straight and serious, Meghan's nonfiction books are recognizable immediately by her signature, wide-eyed style. In a starred review, Kirkus says the "acrylic cartoon illustrations play up Betty’s spunk and derring-do with McCarthy’s trademark googly eyed expressions." Her delightfully lively style makes her other titles easy to spot: Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2010), Seabiscuit the Wonder Horse (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2008), The Incredible Life of Balto (Knopf, 2011), and Strong Man: The Story of Charles Atlas (Knopf, 2007), to name a few.

Question: You've written about bubble gum, a legendary racehorse, a life-saving dog, among many other topics. What inspired you to choose the life of little-known aviation pioneer Betty Skelton?

Meghan McCarthy: I actually struggled with this topic at first because Betty seemed to have an awe-inspiring life. When I write a biography, I like to include a little struggle—something to give the story a nice arch. But Betty was such a positive person that I couldn’t find any struggle! She put a positive spin on everything! I know it seems odd that I, a writer for children, would be looking for some sad drama, but I kind of was. I couldn’t find any. Even when Betty wasn’t chosen to go to space, she was okay with it. She seemed to enjoy the experience and said she loved working with the astronauts. She’d followed the career of John Glenn her whole life and wrote him letters but said he never wrote back. She just laughed about it. She was such a good-natured lady.

Why is Betty Skelton the person to write about? Because she didn’t care if girls weren’t supposed to fly planes or race cars or jump boats or be advertising executives. She just did what she wanted to do. As a kid I was like that. I played on an all boys baseball team. I distinctly remember running home and telling my dad that I needed a glove and socks and a “cup.” My dad sheepishly explained why I didn’t need one of those! Betty did things bigger and better than I ever could and that’s what I think is so awesome.

Q: Writing picture book biographies for young readers is challenging, because you have to distill a life down to 32 pages. Was it difficult to choose what to include in Daredevil?

MM: I’m so glad you asked this question because I don’t think a lot of people know that authors are limited to certain page counts. Picture books are either 32, 40, or in certain cases 48 pages. I was fortunate enough to get 48 pages for Daredevil. I always have a vision for the overall look of the book, but a lot of times I have to alter it because of the page-count limit.

An example of a spread that I wanted in Daredevil and was able to keep because I had 48 pages to play with was the wordless spread of the young Betty flying solo. Flying solo was a turning point in her life, and it was a powerful one. I didn’t want words or other images to clutter the page. I wish I had more opportunities to spread out my stories and sentence structures. Doing so also makes it easier for kids to digest nonfiction text.

Even with 48 pages, I still had to limit what I could talk about. Betty did SO many things. I had to pick and choose. As with all picture book biographies, they’re snippets of someone’s life. I pulled out small pieces—things I thought kids would relate to and find interesting. The goal with my books is to get kids excited about the subjects they’re reading. I want them to run to the computer after reading one of my books and read more. Lots more. I want them to become the researcher.

Q: What I loved about the book is the positive tone. Betty experienced so many disappointments – especially training with the Mercury 7 astronauts only to be passed over for the ultimate flight. But there is no whiff of bitterness here; you just show a strong woman who moves on to other fascinating adventures. Was she really such a positive force?

MM: Betty was really that positive. I didn’t exaggerate or skirt over anything because I was writing for kids. If you watch the oral video biography with Betty done in the late 1990s you’ll see what I mean. Betty really wasn’t upset about not going to space, which I found a little perplexing. Some of the astronauts, such as John Glenn, were against women going into space and said some pretty sexist things. It seems hard to believe that she couldn’t have been a little upset about the way things were. She may have been somewhat angry, but she didn’t exhibit this anger publicly. From all accounts that I’ve read, everyone said she was really a sweet lady.

Q: Why have you chosen to write and research historical figures over writing fiction?

MM: I started out my career writing fiction. At the time when I decided to write my first nonfiction book—Aliens Are Coming – there weren’t a lot of fun choices for kids in the nonfiction genre. The fiction market, on the other hand, was flooded. I didn’t feel that if I continued writing fiction, I’d be contributing anything substantial to it. I thought that if I applied the same sense of humor and fun found in my fiction books to nonfiction works, I could contribute something new to nonfiction. As I delved into my topics I realized that I wasn’t just educating children, I was educating myself. I was really enjoying the process.

I have discovered that I have the ability to take adult subject matter and make it kid-friendly. If you approached the me as a grade-schooler and told me that I would be writing nonfiction books, I’d never believe it. That me was the space-cadet in the back of class doodling in a note pad. I’m writing books for the kids like I was.

Q: Who or what has been your favorite topic to write about so far?

MM: That’s a popular question kids usually ask when I do school visits.  My answer is that I don’t have a favorite book or topic. I learn something new from each book that I do. I do tell kids that Aliens Are Coming is important to me because it was my first nonfiction book. It is pretty cool that I got to paint so many slimy aliens for a nonfiction title.

My mom doubts that I don’t have a favorite subject. My favorite is always the current book that I’m working on. Right now I’m working on a graphic novel that is somewhat about Thomas Edison. I’m learning so many things about him. Some of the details are really surprising!

Q: What do you hope young readers take away from your books? What do you hope to accomplish as a writer?

MM: I want kids to get excited about history, science, and the world around them. There are so many interesting things to learn. It’s all in how it’s taught.

Q: What will we see next from you?

MM: My next book is called Earmuffs for Everyone! And it’s about the invention of earmuffs. There will be a lot of goofy paintings of people wearing silly contraptions that were considered early versions of earmuffs.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Billie Holiday Inspires Amy Novesky's 'Mister and Lady Day'

While much has been written for adults about the remarkable jazz singer Billie Holiday and her tragic life, telling her story to children is a bit trickier. With a childhood scarred by neglect and violence, and later a career marked by drug abuse and prison time, the singing legend's life is not easily boiled down into a simple storyline. But author Amy Novesky has found a way in.

Mister and Lady Day: Billie Holiday and the Dog Who Loved Her (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013), vividly illustrated in mixed media by Vanessa Brantley Newton, tells the story of Billie Holiday's love of dogs, especially her loyal hound Mister, a boxer. Opening with images of a white poodle in her coat pocket and bottle-fed Chihuahuas, this story is sure to connect and appeal to young children. And as with Amy's other biographical picture books – about photographer Imogen Cunningham with Imogen: The Mother of Modernism and Three Boys (Cameron + Company, 2012),
artist Frida Kahlo with Me, Frida (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2010), and Georgia O’Keeffe with Georgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O'Keeffe Painted What She Pleased (Harcourt Children's Books, 2012) – it's clear this author has a gift for telling the story of talented 20th century women.

Question: Billie Holiday is legendary and her music speaks to many generations. What made you want to write about "Lady Day"?

Amy Novesky: I've always loved Billie Holiday, and I couldn't believe that there weren't any picture books about her. Like Frida, Georgia, and Imogen, subjects of my other picture books, I'm inspired not just by Billie as an artist, but as a person. When I think of Billie Holiday, I think of her elegance, her signature gardenia flowers framing her lovely face, the unforgettable tone of her voice. She was an extraordinary person, in addition to being an extraordinary singer.

Q: Writing biographies for children is challenging, especially when the material about the subject's childhood is slim. But by framing your story around Billie's love of dogs, you've created an engaging tale that connects immediately with young readers. How did you land on this as your story? Can you talk about your creative process?

AN: When I set out to write a picture book about Billie, I quickly realized why there were no picture books about her: she had a tough life. A father who abandoned her, a mother in survival mode, prostitution, drug addiction and conviction, early death. Tough themes for a kid's book. But I like a good challenge. Just because she had a tough life, doesn't mean kids shouldn't know about her. Her challenges make her human, and that's something everyone can relate to. And she had this incredible gift! That said, I wanted to find an accessible way into her story. While I was researching Billie's life, I learned that she loved dogs and that she had several in her life, including a beloved boxer named Mister. That's when I knew I had a story (and the title for a book). Billie's dogs were my way into her story.

Some of my other stories have not been as immediately clear. I begin with an idea for a story and then I research. I learn everything I can about the subject, seek out primary sources when I can. I usually don't know what story I will tell, but when I do, I focus in. The challenge with the lesser known stories is that there is less known, less documented, less written. That was certainly the case with my book about Frida Kahlo. I chose to tell the story of her first trip to San Francisco, a footnote in her biography. It took some time for this story to become a story, many drafts and directions (factual and fictional; I invented an earthquake), a handful of rejections from publishers, even a few years in a desk drawer, until I happened upon the one detail (an art show, perhaps her first) that shifted this story from static to dynamic, and the story was acquired, and two years later, became a book. A few of my "too-slight" stories are still in the proverbial desk drawer to emerge, if ever, on their own time.

Q: While Billie Holiday's life is fascinating, some of her experiences are hard to explain for a young audience. But you handled her arrest and drug conviction deftly. How challenging was that to navigate?

AN: Very. I'm the mother of an eight year old boy. I certainly don't want to expose him, or any young reader, to anything that he is not ready for. And so, me and my editor, Samantha McFerrin, gave a lot of thought to just how much to say about Billie's drug conviction and prison term, the reason for her having to leave Mister behind for a year and a day. What we decided to focus on was this idea of Billie getting into trouble, something young readers can relate to. What that trouble was doesn't really matter. That said, because kids want to know the truth, the author's note explains why Billie got into trouble and where she went. (Author's notes are a great place to put everything that doesn't quite fit into the narrative.) I'm not sure if this works, but it's what we chose to do.

Q: You're the author of a variety of titles for young readers, including many that spotlight remarkable women. How do you decide on your subjects? And what do you want to accomplish with your writing?

AN: I write about what inspires me – people (Ganesh, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O'Keeffe, Imogen Cunningham, Billie Holiday) and places (India, San Francisco, Hawaii). I'm always looking for stories. When I come upon an idea, I spend time researching it, and if I find the thread of a story, if I feel like I want to spend several years of my life with it and believe in it as a book, if I can envision promoting it, then I will start writing. Every story has a life of its own. My new picture book biography manuscript was inspired nearly eight years ago by a New York Times article. But when I started researching this particular artist, I did not connect with her life and her work, and so I put the idea aside, until a year and a half ago when I happened upon a new monograph of the artist's late work, which I very much connected with, and I immediately found the thread, an entire tapestry, of the story and wrote it in a week. It flowed.

I love writing picture book biographies, and as long as I am inspired, I will write them. That said, the more I write them, the more humbled I am by the responsibility of writing about a real person, of getting it right. I'm humbled by the responsibility of making a book public and promoting it. This is leading me to only write what I feel passionate about, what I believe in wholeheartedly. And so, I'm at a crossroads with my writing and my identity as a writer.

Q: What else will we see from you? What's next?

AN: What will I write next? I'm not sure. I have a handful of manuscripts out with editors right now, including the picture book biography mentioned above, and a baseball book, inspired by a story my son wrote. (His stories are much better than mine). Beyond that, something wonderful and true, I hope.